Marshall Crenshaw (from the album Miracle of Science available on MRI)
Marshall Crenshaw may be the musical equivalent to the bottomless cup of coffee. Good coffee. Some critics may snark at his overall output with less than a dozen full length albums to his credit in a career that dates back to 1982, beginning the release cycle with his stellar self-titled debut. Dig into the material within the Marshall Crenshaw discography and you will struggle to find a bad cut in the entire bunch; the good songs just keep getting poured into your coffee cup. After six album releases, Marshall Crenshaw moved from a major label to the indie Razor and Tie with the release of Miracle of Science, an album seeing a proper reissue. Almost a quarter century old and its as fresh as next week.
“What Do You Dream Of” kicks off Miracle of Science in classic Marshall Crenshaw fashion, the narrator contemplating the mysteries of the gal catching his eye. “Who Stole That Train” and its slide guitar hint at country and “Theme from Flaregun” is a surf-rock instrumental with game-show theme music undertones. Marshall Crenshaw takes a why-the-hell-not-because-I-can liberties by preceding the catchy work lament “Seven Miles An Hour” with a reverse spelling ‘rour na selim neves’ as a hidden messages in the song while listeners may wonder why “What The Hell I Got” wasn’t on this record the first time around, its string section fills and power-pop glory make the cut an anchor to the reissue. Listeners can also dig into what Crenshaw digs, obscure covers including Husker Du’s Grant Hart’s “Twenty-Five Forty-One,” “A Wondrous Place” which was a hit for Billy Fury, and a hand clap, horn section laden version of Dobie Gray’s “The In Crowd.”
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David Dondero (from the album The Filter Bubble Blues available on Fluff and Gravy Records)
What is a filter bubble? The Oxford Dictionary has the definition as a situation in which an Internet user encounters only information and opinions that conform to and reinforce their own beliefs, caused by algorithms that personalize an individual’s online experience. Sound familiar? David Dondero opens his recent release, The Filter Bubble Blues (his 10th album), from the comfort of an “Easy Chair”, the cut beginning the song cycle with a man frozen in place by the faces and events passing by on a variety of screens right in front of his eyes, watching ratings rise with death tolls as he lets his mind wander. He is just one the characters walking the corridors of The Filter Bubble Blues. The men and women that find themselves the centerpoints of the songs are the fuel for David Dondero’s stories. A devotee of Woody Guthrie, David Dondero received early musical advice from Bruce Springsteen to Black Flag, David’s words all tipped with a rock’n’roll bite. The tales that unfold take today into consideration as David Dondero takes a tour in the museum of sunken ideas, meandering down corridors of racial tension in “Underwater Sculpture Garden” while gun violence is the topic of “Empty Gesture” and disappearing neighborhoods for “All the Empty Houses” as indignity, bigotry, and social studies the lessons within “The Presidential Palace of Pornography”. David Dondero is poking the population, his hopes that his opinions break through the wall established between us and them. Our troubled times watch as the atmosphere becomes toxic, the result is a numbness that is (at times) an insurmountable barrier that divides friends and families. The weather is the stage setting when David Dondero links health to high winds with “Thought I Was a Hurricane” and tributes a victim of the Charlottesville civil rights unrest rally, “Heather Heyer” while The Filter Bubble Blues wonder about consequences in “When the Pendulum Swings”.
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Eleven Hundred Springs (from the album Here ‘Tis is available on State Fair Records)
Following centuries of humans stomping on our ecological footprint we have a world of hybrids. Innovation sometimes requires borrowing from the past and marrying diverse food groups, colors, fabric, bloodlines, and music. While appreciating the artists pushing at the walls of sound, when a pure form of art raises its voice, there is little competition….and don’t it sound sweet. That is the spot where the music of Eleven Hundred Springs lives. For nearly twenty years, Eleven Hundred Springs have cultivated, curated, and carried songs native to a Country band. The latest release from Eleven Hundred Springs, Here ‘Tis, watches the boys in the band finding their spots on the stage, plugging in, and proudly playing Country music, thank you very much.
This is your grandma’s music, and your grandfather’s, and all their friends. Here ‘Tis spins a jukebox selection of unheard AM Gold, Eleven Hundred Springs putting a sway to sad as they shuffle alongside “Fair Weather Friend”, pull the plug from social media buzz with a sturdy rhythm with “Nobody Cares”, and let the morning light rest on a hefty beat as reality dawns in “This Morning It Was Too Late”. Eleven Hundred Springs turn pages on the band’s personal history with “Looking Back”, cherishing each and every mile of the road and the good fortune of playing their music. City living gets the boot when Here ‘Tis finds an exit in “Let’s Move Out to the Country” as a fiddle sets the spark for the trotting pace of “Let Me Be Your Man” while Eleven Hundred Springs send out a love letter with a Country melody that hits the heart in “The Song You’ll Never Hear”.
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Paul Kelly (from the album Paul Kelly's Greatest Hits- Songs from The South - 1985-2019 available on Cooking Vinyl Limited)
For several generations of Australians, Paul Kelly has been the gold standard of songwritering. Paul is the artist to emulate, a mentor who not only shared craft with legions of learners, Paul’s ability to sound-shift within his songs subtly gave freedom to musical options. Paul Kelly's Greatest Hits- Songs from The South - 1985-2019 collects his output from nearly thirty-five years. Beyond the obvious benefit of gathering well-loved songs under one banner, the hits package displays the dedication of the man with his name on the cover. Paul Kelly has taken on his job with gusto, his resilience and dedication to his role of performer have kept his music fresh and his career contemporary. Paul Kelly's Greatest Hits- Songs from The South - 1985-2019 compliments the 1997 release Songs from the South by filling in the full musical story of Paul’s recordings.
Heading back to his first solo release, Post, Paul Kelly makes a wish within a three-minute song on “From St. Kilda to Kings Cross”. His rock’n’roll band work receives a nod with several tracks by Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls (“Dumb Things”, “Before Too Long”) as well his rootsier effort Paul Kelly & The Messengers (“From Little Things Big Things Grow”). A master songwriter, Paul Kelly offers a musical buffet, celebrating 35 years of recording with an easy shrug, unloading of bag of musical diversity as his melodies travel across Folk, Country, Rock, and Soul. Paul Kelly's Greatest Hits- Songs from The South - 1985-2019 closes out its double-record set with an unreleased tune with Kasey Chambers, “When We’re Both Old & Mad”.
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G Love & Special Sauce (from the album The Juice available Philadelphonic Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Garrett Dutton, aka G Love, has stuck by a laidback and loose musical formula since 1994. It is a blueprint where acoustic Blues and American Folk music buddies around with Hip Hop street beats, Funk, and Soul, a sound that at the most will pack a dance floor, at the least inspire a head bob or foot tap. The latest release from the band begins with the title track “The Juice” classic G. Love slacker boogie, inspired by a timeless jam of Blues, Soul and R&B. G Love states the opener track is ‘a letter, but also a song’ calling for a ‘better world for our daughters and sons’. It is a protest, a hopeful album opener where album guest Marcus King's guitar solo is the glorious star. The cut is followed by Roosevelt Collier and his steel guitar, also claiming stardom on the dirty Funk cut "Soul-B-Que."
"Shake Your Hair" will fill the dance floor, and though ‘throw your hands in the air’ may be a played-out line, any boredom is trampled as the whole song becomes one huge, throbbing rocker. “She's the Rock” is a love song that drops the Blues influence and favors a keyboard heavy Pop sound, “Shine on Moon” with Keb’ Mo’ is traditional Blues and “Birmingham” in all its slickness has Robert Randolph’s sacred steel serving as a mind-blowing musical exclamation point. "Drinkin' Wine" with its novel whistling intro is a loose drinking song, wrapping up with G Love leading a call and response reprise of “The Juice." (by Bryant Liggett)`
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Marcus King (from the album El Dorado available on Fantasy Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Considered his ‘solo debut’ as Marcus King, despite already having records out as The Marcus King Band, the latest from the young, badass guitar player continues to showcase his firm foothold in the Blues Rock world. Tag the Dan Auerbach produced El Dorado with added styles like Gospel, Blues, and Soul, toss it into the Rock’n’Roll section of whatever record stores remain, and let the album prove Marcus Kings well-deserved spot in the festival circuit as well as the Groove Boogie and Blues Rock scenes.
A soft, Country Blues acoustic mood intros El Dorado on “Young Man’s Dream” with Marcus King sounding well beyond his years as he sings ‘left home when I was 17, my feet were dirty, but my soul was clean, I’m still looking for that young man’s dream’. A rocking, dirty guitar riff on “The Well” trails after the lead cut, followed by the heavy “Wildflowers and Wine,” a tune that wouldn’t be out of place at a Sunday morning service. ‘Ever hear a song, come on that radio, make you want to reach over, grab the dial, and turn it on up?’. It is a simple question that kicks off “Turn it Up” and it pulsing, building boogie, followed by “Too Much Whiskey” that is a huge nod, if not sequel, to the Willie-Whiskey tune. Marcus King must have grown up with friends bending his ear on Stax, Motown and Muscle Shoals, as his sound on El Dorado is nothing short of a reflection of great American songbook. Fine influences indeed, and for a dude barely into his twenties, those muses provide nothing but future musical promise.
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Shea Rafferty (from the album To the Morning Sky available as a self-release)
Roots find their source, digging deep into the earth encircling the globe to drink from a well of Folk, Blues, Country, Rock’n’Roll, and Soul that grew up on U.S. soil, enriched by the musical heritage brought to its shores by all cultures. Shea Rafferty collects the sounds, the songs on his recent release, To the Morning Sky, reflecting the influence of Country (“Life Be Gentle”) and honky tonk rock’n’roll (“Running Wild”) on dark rhythms (“Kings and Queens”), dancehall cabaret (“Long Walk”), and moody late night noir (“Goodbye”). To the Morning Sky, his debut, was captured in Portland, Oregon, Shea Rafferty packing up his tunes to record with Gregg Williams (Jesse Malin/Blitzen Trapper) and co-writer Troy Stewart.
Born in Northern Ireland and based in North London, England, Shea Rafferty uses a vast palette of musical history to soundtrack his stories of life, his persona mingling with the lives passing him. Accepting the role of teacher alongside storyteller, Shea Rafferty makes the obvious clearer, his voice ringing like a bell leading us to a better future in “Rise”, the echoed harmony of the song a whispered intonation in your ear to inspire. Scratchy chords are the welcome into To the Morning Sky, Shea Rafferty beginning the song cycle admitting that “These Days” fit him fine, his mood mirrored in the dual guitar leads that tumble across the track. To the Morning Sky shines its light on diverse styles, all comfortable in the words and music of Shea Rafferty, making its mark with heft on the assured strut through “One of a Kind” and tenderly letting hushed notes flicker over the urging of a hammering beat to provide his take on trust with “That’s What Friends Are For”.
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Big Lazy (from the album Dear Trouble available on Checkered Past Records)
Using notes and rhythms, Big Lazy present cinematic swaths of music that glide and groove over their latest release, Dear Trouble. Heavy steps walk into the album, guitar lines striding over fat bass notes and jittery beats as “The Onliest” chugs across Dear Trouble. The sound of tires hitting blacktop is a meditative thump underneath “Exit Tucson” while a rockabilly bustle pours out from “Cheap Crude”, a seductive noir mood drifts over “Fly Paper”, and Peter Hess’ saxophone capably guides the melody around the dreamscape jam of “Sing Sing”.
Big Lazy has been a mainstay for two decades in downtown Manhattan, playing everywhere from dive bars to museum rotundas. The band’s founder, Stephen Ulrich, welcomes fellow NYC musicians to join the trio when Marc Ribot lends his guitar work to “Cardboard Man” and “Mr. Wrong” while the emotive keyboards of Marlysse Rose Simmons accent “Ramona” and Steve Bernstein pops out trumpet notes for “Girl”. Big Lazy makes the old bump and grind the dance du jour for “Sizzle & Pops” and lets sound wash over the rhythms like rainwater coursing down a window for the Dear Trouble title track.
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Windborne (from the album Recollections/Revolutions available on Wan’dring Feet Records)
While harmony and singing voices are certainly a huge part of Windborne, the four members display the depth and breadth of a vocal group. Their recent release, Recollections/Revolutions, spotlights the rhythms, the nuanced emotions, and the passionate accents of Windborne. The album goes beyond a track listing of vocal cuts, presenting its songs in pure forms, sourcing origins by adding a desperate tone of defiance to “Bread and Roses”, playfully recalling simple pleasures in “Lazy John”, following the haunted echo of marching feet into Harlan Country mines for “Which Side Are You On”, and laying vocals over the flutter of notes in “Blackest Crow”.
The four singers of Windborne, Lynn Mahoney Rowan, Will Thomas Rowan, Lauren Breunig, and Jeremy Carter-Gordon, grew up immersed in the traditional music and dance communities of New England, discovering and developing a love for world Folk music while still in their teens. Recollections/Revolutions is a double set of songs, both albums featuring cuts that celebrate life hereafter with spirituals (“Ain’t No Grave”) joining fellow humans on their journey (“Going Across the Sea”), standing proud on picket lines (“Fire in the Hole”), and lighting the torches of rebellion (“Song on the Times”). Taking tunes from Windborne’s native American soil, Recollections/Revolutions curates traditional songs from Corsica, the Republic of Georgia, Bulgaria, Quebec, and Basque country. Windborne take on the role of soldier in Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, find young love with “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms”, and hold tight to this mortal coil in “Gimme Just a Little More Time”, their voices giving flesh and blood to the long line of humans and their history in the music
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Sunny Gable (from the album Audience of One available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Contrary to her album title, she is a musician worthy of having an audience of more than one. Sunny Gable, the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist behind the roots outfit Sunny and the Whiskey Machine, has wowed audiences around the Southwest with gutsy and soulful vocals, whether playing her Bluegrass tinged originals or covering from Aretha Franklin to The Talking Heads. The Sunny Gable solo debut, Audience of One, has Sunny backed by her Whisky Machine bandmates, dropping their Roots twang for a more traditional Folk approach with the vocals sturdy, smooth, and ever-present.
“Rise” is a mournful and hopeful opener of optimistic promise. The story’s character showing that she’ll rise, she’ll fall ‘and the ground begins to crumble, almost every night’ but she’ll get up every time. “How to Catch a Northern Star” is a sailor song, a tale of ‘129 strong and able men, enough rum and food to lift our mood when our patience is running thin’ that proves Sunny Gable can also spin a tale from out of history. “Old ‘88” is a picturesque travel tune with a fun bounce while the title track is a lonely number with a even lonelier fiddle, Sunny Gable asking ‘why am I so damn good at letting everybody down?’. “Battle Cry” kicks off with a military drum beat that progresses into a marching tune while maintaining a slight groove. The closer in “Sweeter Than a Song (Finn’s Lullaby)” is a tearjerker nod to Gable’s ‘beacon in the fog’, her youngest child.
Backed by her long-time bandmates, Sunny Gable has kept a Roots music configuration without making an overtly Roots record, her strong vocals gaining power when studio magic has Sunny Gable backing herself. (by Bryant Liggett)
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